How many times have you heard American TV make a reference to this popular street food in their shows? I personally have lost count! I don't remember the first time I tasted falafel but it certainly wasn't love at first bite or sight for that matter. I didn't like the look of shrivelled oily balls that looked burnt in heavy supermarket packaging.
My husband used to work near the Marble Arch and that opened up his world to the Mediterranean foods on Edgware road and his lunch included things like falafel wraps, kibbeh and shawarma, while I sulked in my office over a soggy sandwich or a half cold bowl of soup. As if he wasn't tired of travelling there everyday on an hour long tube journey, he used to take me there for lunch on some weekends. Now having falafel freshly fried for you as a starter with many dips was a completely different experience. This is how my love affair with the Middle Eastern food and this particular treat started.
Needless to say the origin is disputed, although most sources point to Egypt where it is also called Ta'amia. It is a popular street food that is made with chickpeas and fava/broad beans. The recipes differ from region to region and include different proportions of fava beans and chickpeas, or just chickpeas.
Many recipes call for tinned chickpeas and you will find that the end mixture is quite watery and can break easily when frying or baking. Traditionally, it is made with soaking dried chickpeas and fava beans overnight and then grinding them up with spices and herbs. I also found that most recipes called for only tinned chickpeas without any mention of broad/fava beans. I couldn't find any dried fava/broad beans in any superstore and hence resorted to fresh frozen broad beans.
This recipe is adapted from The Arab Table by May Bsisu. I love this book, mainly because it is properly researched with details of traditions and stories about Arab food; their origin, uses and authentic recipes.
Ingredients: (see tips for substitutions)
Dried chickpeas 300gm (soaked overnight)
Broad beans (tinned or frozen) 200gm
Garlic 6 cloves
White Onion (medium)1
Parsley (small bunch) 1
Green Coriander (small bunch) 1
Ground Coriander 1/2 tsp
Ground Allspice 1/2 tsp
Ground Cumin 1 tsp
Cayenne Pepper 1/2 tsp
Ground Cinnamon 1/2 tsp
Salt 1 tbsp
Black Pepper 1/2 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Baking powder 1 tsp
Soak the chickpeas overnight.
Drain the water next morning and let them get as dry as possible before use.
Thaw frozen broad/fava beans or use equal measure tinned broad beans.
Pulse the beans in the food processor and you might have to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times with a wooden spoon. You are aiming for something that feels like cooked couscous or similar to fresh bread crumbs.
Add the onion, garlic and herbs. Grind till they are well incorporated and finely chopped.
Throw in all the spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate and pulse one last time.
Rest the mixture for 2 hours for the flavours to develop.
Shape them into balls. Here size doesn't really matter but I aimed for something a little bigger than 1 inch.
Pre-heat the oven to 220C (200C fan assisted). Line a tray with baking paper. Spread the balls on the sheet and bake for about 25 minutes. Till they are nice and brown.
Dare I say, fry them for the best taste. It takes about 5 minutes in medium hot oil.
You can see the difference between the final texture of fried (top) and baked (bottom) falafels in this picture. They taste absolutely delicious both ways.
- Use chilli pepper instead of cayenne and skip allspice, but these are bith easily available in most local supermarkets.
- I freeze them after making balls and leave them to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking or frying them.
- I will try to find dried fava/broad beans in Middle eastern shops which will again need soaking overnight before being used.
- You can serve it as a salad for a low carb lunch over a bed of fresh leaves, with olives, red onion, tomatoes and feta.
- You can use the tinned chickpeas and broad beans for convenience but remember the mixture the mixture becomes squidgy and might fall apart while frying so best bake it and reduce the salt in the recipe to compensate for the salted water in the tinned beans.
Do try it and let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear from you.